Dating and Intimacy

Dating and Intimacy

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2018

Single adults may experience physical and emotional changes during and after cancer treatment. These may affect dating and sexual relationships.

Tips for pursuing new relationships

Concerns about dating and sexual intimacy after cancer treatment are common. But do not let fear keep you from pursuing relationships.

Consider these strategies when developing new relationships:

  • Practice positive self-talk. For example, make a list of your positive qualities.
  • Tell friends and family you are ready to meet potential dating partners.
  • Try a new activity, join a club, or take a class.
  • Talk with other cancer survivors who have started dating.
  • Practice a response to rejection, if that possibility concerns you.

When to share your experience with cancer

People’s preferences differ about when to share their cancer experiences.

You may think it is too personal to share immediately. Or you may fear it could deter a potential partner. If so, wait for mutual trust to develop before sharing.

Alternatively, you may feel dishonest or insincere withholding this information. If so, consider sharing before a relationship becomes serious.

How to share your cancer experience 

Before sharing, consider how you would feel most comfortable doing it. Some people simply talk about the cancer experience. Others show scars or other body changes associated with cancer. Some express their fears and concerns through humor.

Potential issues to address

Consider discussing these topics:

  • The possibility of recurrence
  • Physical limitations because of cancer or its treatment
  • Your feelings about dating or starting a relationship

Other types of preparation before sharing

These steps may help you feel more confident entering the conversation:

  • Write down what you plan to say.
  • Practice with a friend.
  • Prepare responses to possible questions.

Learn more about talking with a partner.

Concerns about sexual health and intimacy

As a relationship deepens, you may wonder how your experience with cancer could affect your sexual health and intimacy with your partner.

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause side effects related to sexual heath. These may be physical or emotional.

Talk with your health care team about potential sexual side effects. Tell them about specific ones you experience. They can give you options for managing or lessening these side effects.

Learn more about how men and women can cope with changes to their sexual health during and after treatment.

Communication about sexual health and intimacy

Communication is important for healthy sexual feelings in any relationship. In particular, sharing cancer-related concerns can help relieve worries. It can also help boost emotional intimacy and trust.

There is no perfect time to talk about sex. But it is best to discuss it before becoming sexually intimate.

If you are hesitant talking about your sexual health, consider these approaches:

  • Decide what you want to say in advance. Write down your thoughts, or share them with a friend.
  • Pick a low-stress, unrushed time to talk.
  • Find a private and neutral place for the discussion.
  • Have multiple shorter conversations, if that feels more comfortable.
  • Practice saying sexual terms aloud, in advance. Most sex therapists recommend using medical terms. It is best to avoid slang or euphemisms.
  • Be honest about potential problems. And discuss things you both can do to lessen these problems.
  • Explain or show any physical changes to your body.
  • Help your partner understand what provides pleasure and reduces discomfort.
  • Let your partner know if anything becomes painful.
  • Keep in mind that sexual intimacy involves more than intercourse. Experiment with other ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure.

Resources for support

For ongoing problems with emotional and sexual intimacy, consider:

  • Talking with a counselor or sex therapist. These professionals help address problems with communication and intimacy.
  • Joining a support group. These forums provide a safe place to share and learn from others with similar situations. 

Related Resources

Your Sexual Health and Cancer: What to Know, What to Do

Cancer.Net Videos: Dating and Sexuality for Young Adults with Cancer

Dating and Sex for Young Adult Cancer Survivors: Expert Answers

Online Communities for Support

More Information

National Cancer Institute: Self-Image and Sexuality

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